Is CBD-Only Legislation a Good Thing for Medical Marijuana?

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March 25, 2014 - By Amanda Reiman

When California passed the country’s first medical marijuana law in 1996, the response was a resounding, “But of course, it’s California.”

Over the next 18 years, the states adopting medical marijuana laws represented the usual suspects of liberalism or libertarianism. But, as medical marijuana became for accepted and mainstream in the general public, there was still a region of the country that would not have it, where marijuana penalties remain stiff and often require prison time: the South.

But, now, with medical marijuana laws looming in Florida, Louisiana, Georgia and Kentucky, one might wonder why this sudden change in their willingness to accept medical marijuana? The answer is CBD, or Cannabidiol.

CBD is a cannabinoid, an active ingredient in the marijuana plant. The cousin to the more well-known THC, CBD does have some sedative effects, but is not psychoactive like THC. Due to prohibition, marijuana plants high in levels of CBD had been practically bred out of existence.

People buying marijuana on the illicit market were seeking products high in the psychoactive cannabinoid THC, so growers would propagate strains high in THC, making them low in all other cannabinoids, including CBD. However, the interest in CBD has increased lately, and this interest is being driven by a very powerful group, strong enough to break medical marijuana into the South – parents.

The various cannabinoids in the marijuana plant all have their own therapeutic properties, with some properties spanning several cannabinoids. However, CBD has some properties that are unique, one of them being the ability to control seizures in a childhood condition called Dravet’s Syndrome.

Chronicled on the CNN special hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, marijuana high in CBD is extremely effective at reducing seizures in this population. The results are so promising, that two clinical trials are now underway in the United States on a CBD rich sublingual spray called Sativex.

News of the impact of CBD on these children, coupled with the Gupta special has spread like wildfire through the close knit community of Dravet’s parents. And they are demanding access to CBD rich medical marijuana.

But, these pieces of legislation are unlike other medical marijuana laws, because they allow for ONLY CBD rich marijuana, casting THC aside. This is becoming a strategy for those trying to get medical marijuana laws in unlikely places, feeling that more conservative states might be willing to embrace medical marijuana if the psychoactive variety was cut out of the deal. This would create a system, in some cases, where the plant could be legal or result in prison, just based on the ratio of cannabinoids contained inside.

So, is CBD-only legislation a good thing?

Yes and no.

In some states, the only way medical marijuana is going to get its foot in the door is through the strictest of incrementalism. And, preventing access to an effective, safe and natural medicine for families in those states is of course, not a preferred outcome.

But, what about the children and adults with cancer, HIV and other serious illnesses in those states whose use of THC rich medicine might ease the nausea and pain associated with their treatments?

The adoption of CBD-only legislation might be a way to start the conversation in some states, but it should not be the end.

Amanda Reiman is a policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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